Week 10: Princeton (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) at Penn (3-6, 1-5 Ivy)
By Craig Sachson, PrincetonTigersFootball.com
There is always something to play for in the final weekend of the football season.
Seniors want their final football memory to be a positive one. Returning players want the taste of victory as they head into the offseason.
Sometimes there are individual milestones or records within reach. Sometimes it’s a big rival.
And let’s face it, winning is more fun than losing.
But make no mistake, there is one thing that every team hopes to play for when the season hits its final stop. From the first day of spring practices, through summer work, a grueling preseason, and nine challenging weeks, players dream of a chance to win a championship with their teammates — their brothers.
On Saturday, Princeton gets that opportunity. On Saturday, Princeton earned that opportunity.
On Saturday, Princeton plays for the Ivy League championship.
Lucky 13 • Princeton will play for its 13th Ivy League championship this Saturday at Franklin Field when the Tigers face the Penn Quakers at 1 pm on ESPN+ and NBC Sports Philadelphia+. A Tiger win clinches at least a share of the Ivy League title, regardless of what else happens in the league. Dartmouth also can clinch at least a share of the title with a victory at Brown (12 pm); both teams have a chance to win it outright, while the winner of the Harvard-Yale game could enter a three-way title tie if both Dartmouth and Princeton lose.
Three Pointer • A victory would give Princeton its third Ivy League title in five seasons. The only other time Princeton has achieved such a championship stretch occurred in the 1960s, when the Tigers won the 1963, 1964 and 1966 Ivy titles.
Go Fourth • If Princeton wins Saturday, it would be the program’s fourth Ivy League title in eight seasons. Prior to the 2013 season, Princeton had won four Ivy League titles over the previous 43 seasons.
Local Rivalry • This is the 112th meeting between Princeton and Penn in a series that dates back to Nov. 11, 1876. Princeton leads the all-time series 68-42-1 and has won five of the last seven meetings. Franklin Field has been a challenging location for the Tigers, though; Princeton has lost six of its last seven road games at Penn. The lone win (2013) during that stretch, however, came during Princeton’s 10th Ivy championship season.
Point, Counterpoint • Princeton has the top scoring offense in the Ivy League through nine games this season. The Tigers are averaging 33.3 points per game, having scored an Ivy League-high 37 touchdowns. Princeton also has the second-ranked total offense in the League and averages just under 400 total yards per game.
Catching On • Senior Jacob Birmelin, a 2019 All-Ivy League honoree, leads the Ivy League in both receptions (58) and receiving yards (730). While he did have the go-ahead touchdown in the win over Yale last weekend, his biggest catch of the season doesn’t even count in that total; Birmelin caught the winning two-point conversion in the 18-16 victory over Harvard.
Cole In Your Stocking • Senior quarterback Cole Smith has made the most of his first season as a starter. He ranks in the Ivy Top 2 in completions (181), completion percentage (66.5), yards (2,356), touchdown passes (14), and pass efficiency (150.4).
Tackling The Issue • Princeton seniors James Johnson and Jeremiah Tyler rank among the Ivy League leaders in tackles, and have been key leaders on that side of the ball. Johnson, who earned All-Ivy League Honorable Mention in 2019, leads the team with 6.0 tackles per game, while Tyler, the 2019 finalist for Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year honors, is averaging 5.8 tackles per game.
Sack Race • Princeton senior Samuel Wright ranks second in the Ivy League with 8.5 sacks per game. Teammate Uche Ndukwe has only played in six games this season, but he still ranks sixth in the league with six sacks, while teammate Cole Aubrey has five.
Flag Football • One of the staples of Bob Surace-coached teams recently has come in the penalty department — and specifically a lack of penalties. Princeton has committed the fewest penalties (39) and had the least penalty yardage (37.9) of any Ivy team this season. Both totals rank in the top six in all of FCS football.
O Captain, Our Captains • Following the longest and most trying offseason any of these players ever faced, the team consistently talks about how valuable the leadership within the locker room has been. That leadership was evident as early as the preseason, when Princeton voted a team record six captains for the 2021 season: Collin Eaddy, Trevor Forbes, Nikola Ivanisevic, James Johnson, Cole Smith and Jeremiah Tyler.